Benedict's letter "different": Chinese church leader

The Chinese government has "taken note" of the pope's letter to China's Catholics and is willing to continue dialogue with the Vatican, a spokesperson said yesterday, while a prominent government-aligned lay leader says that "this letter is different from earlier papal letters".

According to a UCA News report, Qin Gang, a foreign ministry official, said that "China is willing to continue candid and constructive dialogue with Vatican so as to resolve our differences".

But he also reiterated China's position that improving China-Vatican ties still has two conditions: the Vatican must sever its so-called diplomatic ties with Taiwan and recognise the People's Republic of China as the sole legitimate government representing all of China, and it shall never interfere in China's internal affairs, including in the name of religion.

"We hope the Vatican side takes concrete actions and does not create new barriers," he added.

Also responding to Pope Benedict's long-awaited letter, the Anatolian Times quoted Liu Bainian, deputy head of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, as saying that "the pope, through his papal letter has expressed his love and concern for China's believers."

"This is different from earlier papal letters," Liu Bainian told AFP.

"Earlier papal letters were opposed to communism and the socialist system. They wanted to (punish) members of China's patriotic church. Now the situation is not the same. The pope wants to better understand China's Church."

The papal letter, published on Saturday, expressed "good intentions," Liu said, adding that he hoped Beijing and the Vatican could improve ties and soon establish diplomatic relations.

However, UCA News also noted that some Catholic websites in mainland China which had published Pope Benedict XVI's letter to Catholics in the mainland shortly after it was released were ordered hours later to remove it.

A priest in charge of a Chinese Catholic site registered with the government told UCA News that he felt helpless because he strongly believes that "China church websites should publish the pope's letter."

The priest, who asked not to be named, said some government officials who came to his office on 29 June asked about the letter but did not explicitly say he could not carry it. The next evening, he uploaded the letter to his site, but he was told on 1 July morning he was not allowed to upload the text.

By 2 July, UCA News says it found five such websites, mostly run by "underground" Catholics, still had the full text, 19,763 Chinese characters, including the footnotes.

UCAN: China gov't to mainland Catholic Web sites: Remove text of papal letter (Catholic Online, 2/7/07)
China's official Catholic church welcomes pope's letter (Anatolian Times, 2/7/07)
Subdued but predictable reactions in China to Pope's letter (AsiaNews, 2/7/07)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Catholic Church in China (Catholic Hierarchy)
Roman Catholicism in China (Wikipedia)
Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association

Benedict reaches out to China (CathNews, 2/7/07)
Benedict to write to China seeking "normal" diplomatic relations (CathNews, 22/1/07)
Monasteries pray for Pope's China letter (CathNews, 26/6/07)
No China ties unless Vatican appoints bishops (CathNews, 22/5/07)
China bishop still missing (CathNews, 17/4/07)
"Christian explosion" among Chinese intellectuals, expert finds (CathNews, 23/3/07)
No rest for Zen, Pope decides (CathNews, 22/3/07)
Bibles for Beijing Olympics (CathNews, 12/3/07)

3 Jul 2007